The Verizon IndyCar Series announced on Thursday that it is overhauling the system of awarding championship points to drivers and teams, in a way to reinforce the prestige of the three events of the Triple Crown and restore some parity between the oval and street/road course events.
The new format, which will be implemented at the season-opener at St Petersburg on March 28-30, will put a premium on the three 500-mile events at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana by allowing them to score double the usual number of championship points.
At the moment, the winner of an event receives 50 points, second place is 40 points and third is 35 points. After that the progression is 30-28-26-24-22-20 for the top ten, with the pay-off then decreasing by one point per place from 11th to 25th after which anyone entering the race gets a flat five point remuneration.
This year, the winners of the Indianapolis 500 in May, the Pocono 500 in July and the season finale MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in August will receive a 100 point boost, and second place will get 80 with third place gaining 70 points, right down the finishing order.
"Adding more weight to the 500-mile events rewards teams and drivers that continually rise to the occasion at key times of the year," explained IndyCar's president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker. "We looked at various ways to improve the way we decide our champions, and this will only make the championship battles more exciting."
In addition to the double points for the long-distance events, points will be awarded for qualifying in the Indy 500. The top time on the first day will get 33 points, going down in one point steps to a single point for 33rd and last place on the grid. More points will be awarded for the Fast Nine Shootout on the second day, with the top time - and pole winner - gaining nine more points, again decreasing by one point per position to a single point for ninth place.
The changes help make the oval races in the 2014 schedule a bigger part of the championship despite being fewer in number now that the series had added double-header events at Detroit, Houston and Toronto to augment the number of street/road races. The move should help those drivers who fare better at ovals such as Ryan Hunter-Reay, and may weigh against those who prefer road course events such as Will Power.
Also in a significant move, the system of grid penalties for changing an engine before it meets the mileage threshold for the unit or when a car surpasses the total number of allowed units for the season is being scrapped in place of a ten-point deduction in the team/driver or manufacturer championships, according to who initiated the change.
"Fans didn't like seeing drivers receive the 10-grid-spot penalty for engine changes, especially when it was out of the team's control," Walker explained. "With the help from our manufacturers, we are able to enhance our races without adding more confusion to the people who follow the sport."
However, unapproved engine change-outs by an entry will still result in a grid penalty, with the affected car being forced to start from the back of the grid for the next race - with the continuing exception of the Indy 500, where grid penalties will be carried over to the next race on the calendar.
The manufacturers championship between Honda and Chevrolet is also being tweaked, with the top five finishers in a race earning their engine provider points in the amount of 50-40-35-32-30 and double that at the Triple Crown races. Two bonus points will be awarded to the manufacturer that leads the most laps, with one bonus point available to whichever manufacturer leads at least one lap and which one earns the Verizon P1 Award.
The exception is the Indy 500 where the top five on the two days of qualifying earning manufacturer points in the same ratio as the driver/team championship - 33-32-31-30-29 on day one, and 9-8-7-6-5 for the Fast Nine Shootout on day 2.